Lost in the saga of beer and chicken, pain pills and September collapses was the fact that the Boston Red Sox made perhaps there best acquisition since David Ortiz, or at least Josh Beckett, last December when they acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres. Gonzalez was long coveted by former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and his baseball staff. When the Red Sox lost out on Mark Teixeira before the 2009 season they made acquiring Gonzalez one of their top priorities. They finally got their man on December 6, 2010 when they sent prospects Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, Eric Patterson, and Reymond Fuentes to the Padres for Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a duel threat, one of the best hitters in the game as well as one of the best defensive first basemen.
Gonzalez did not (personally) disappoint in his first season with the Red Sox. He had a line of .338/.410/.957 with 27 home runs and 117 RBI. He was a 1st time American League All-Star and won a Silver Slugger for being the best offensive first baseman in the American League. He also won a Gold Glove for his prowess in the field, finishing with a .997 fielding percentage. His .338 batting average was highest for a Red Sox hitter since Manny Ramirez hit .349 in 2002. Although the season didn’t end with a playoff berth it is hard to argue that Gonzalez didn’t do his part in trying to get the Sox to October.
The scary part, for opposing pitchers at least, is that he did all that at less than 100% health. Gonzalez had surgery on his shoulder early in the off season, a few weeks before he was traded to the Red Sox. The surgery for Gonzalez sapped much of his power. He would go a few weeks where he would use his opposite field power to wear out the Green Monster in left field but then his shoulder would get too sore and he would go back to pulling the ball for a stretch. With his shoulder back to 100% for 2012 you should see more consistent power to the opposite field, and more consistent power in general. Gonzalez really has the potential to be a 40 home run guy every year, and think about it – he had 117 RBI on only 27 home runs last season. With Ellsbury, Pedroia, and maybe a better Carl Crawford hitting in front of him, how many RBI will he post if he hits at or near 40 home runs? Gonzalez’s swing was made for Fenway Park but his shoulder didn’t let him show it in 2011. Expect to see more of the Fred Lynn/Mo Vaughn/Yaz opposite field power that makes left handed hitters who call Fenway Park home great.
Gonzalez will only celebrate his 30th birthday this coming May. Historically major league players enjoy their best success between the ages of 29 and 31. Power hitting first basemen such as Gonzalez usually get a grace period to about 33 or 34 at optimal power and hitting before they suffer a regression. That means we have a solid 4-5 years left of one of the best pure left handed hitters in baseball. Conversely the multiple time Gold Glove winner should not see much of a regression on the field anytime soon either. He is also extremely durable, playing in 159 games last season and no less than 156 in a season since 2006. With the possible exception of Ellsbury, Gonzalez will prove to be the most important piece of the lineup for the 2012 season. Like last year, you can expect Gonzalez to anchor a lineup that will hold up it’s end of the bargain. Here’s to hoping that the rest of the team can do the same.
Last year ended with a whimper and people remember Gonzalez for complaining about the schedule and other things after the last game. Don’t let that make you forget the outstanding season he had last season and the outstanding seasons he will have in the future. If the Sox turn it around and get back to the postseason in 2012 I would expect that the only thing people will remember about Gonzalez in 2011 is the great year that started his career with the Red Sox.